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Life is on hold for Yemeni refugees

May 27, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Yemenis are continuing to flee their war torn country. According to UNHCR statistics, just fewer than 180,000 Yemenis have been regionally displaced as a direct result of the conflict. Most of them escape to Saudi Arabia, whereas others flee to East African countries making the dangerous journey across the Red Sea. As the security situation in the Middle East deteriorates, perpetuating the refugee crisis in Europe, many are wondering why Yemenis are not amongst the refugees who making their way there. There are many reasons why this has not been the case, one is that it’s near impossible for them to do so. Even if it were possible, many have fled in the hope of imminent return to reconstruct their lives.

In addition to those who made their way to East Africa, some Yemenis travelled across the Arab world, to Saudi, Jordan and Egypt. Amongst those fleeing the country were East Africans who had fled their countries of origin in search of security in Yemen, many now deem the country so unsafe they have returned home.

Over 30,000 people have fled Yemen and settled in Somali refugee camps. The majority are Somalis who are now internally displaced in their own lands. Yemenis living in the camps are now relying on their hosts’ ability to speak Arabic in order to survive. Refugees pay $150 to get on a boat heading for Africa.

The treatment of Yemeni refugees varies greatly depending on the host country, who the person knows in the country or who knows them. Saudi Arabia does not have a refugee policy and sees Yemenis as migrants. In Jordan, however, many Yemenis were of middle class backgrounds and did not seek asylum in the country, instead arriving in the country seeking temporary security or for medical services after hospitals in their country were bombed.

Though hospitals throughout the country have been affected by the coalition airstrikes or on the ground shelling by Houthi and Saleh militias, Taiz hospitals have been disproportionately dysfunctional due to the Houthi/Saleh imposed siege. Humanitarian aid has been unable to enter the city due to the blockade; this has led to a shortage of water to oxygen tanks.

Yemenis heading to Aden for treatment arrive to find overcrowded hospitals which are under-resourced. Those able to do so have instead left the country for treatment.  Though many leave with just enough money for their treatment and the duration of their stay, the regular suspension of flights into the country for security reasons has left patients stranded.

Jordan itself has been struggling to cope with the influx of Yemenis, even those entering the country for treatment. The country is now home to over two million Palestinian refugees and 701,092 people of concern from other countries, of which 3,852 are Yemeni, UNHCR figures show.

There have also been concerns about the way Arab states treat Yemenis, with many interrogating them at their borders.

Now in Jordan, Abdullah, who asked MEMO not to use his real identity, said: “Honestly, the way I was received in Jordan was nowhere near as bad as my experience when I left to Egypt prior to coming here.”

“I was on my way to Egypt with my family, with my visa. When I arrived, they allowed my family into the country, but after they kept me waiting with no explanation, they told me that I was not allowed into the country despite having my visa issued. For me, that experience was traumatic.”

In addition to personal accounts of Egyptians mistreating Yemenis by denying them entry last minute, interrogating them and even stealing their belongings, Yemenis who do enter usually end up sleeping on the streets. The UNHCR has estimated that there are 6,000-8,000 Yemenis stranded in Egypt, mainly because of flight cancellations and stricter border controls. The majority can only leave once their asylum application is accepted by another country.

For most, returning to Yemen is not an option because of the irregularity of flights.

Most Yemenis who escape the war do so with high hopes that they will return soon. Routes out of the country to safety are themselves dangerous and costly, but for those hoping to return the journey can be equally difficult and life threatening.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.